What Are Common Symptoms of Parkinson's?

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a chronic, progressive disease that affects the neurological systems of the brain and body. It is a highly variable disease, meaning that different patients have different combinations of symptoms, and those symptoms can be at varying severity levels. Symptoms of PD include motor symptoms (those that affect how the body moves) and non-motor symptoms.1

Primary motor symptoms of Parkinson's

The primary motor symptoms of PD are the symptoms that are the key characteristics of the disease. They are:

  • Tremor – a shaking of the hands, arms, or legs, especially when the limb is at rest; it often initially occurs only in one arm or leg, and it may even begin as a small tremor in one finger
  • Rigidity – an abnormal stiffness in a limb or part of the body
  • Postural instability – impaired balance or difficulty standing or walking
  • Bradykinesia – gradual loss and slowing down of spontaneous movement1,2

Secondary motor symptoms

In addition to the four primary motor symptoms, people with PD may experience secondary motor symptoms, such as:

  • Freezing of gait or shuffling gait – the gait, or way of walking, may be affected by a temporary hesitation (freezing) or dragging of the feet (shuffling)
  • Unwanted accelerations – movements which are too quick, which may appear in movement or in speech
  • Speech difficulty or changes in speech – including slurred speech or softness of voice
  • Stooped posture – the body leans forward and the head may be slightly turned down
  • Dystonia – prolonged muscle contractions that can cause twisting of body parts or repetitive movements
  • Impaired fine motor dexterity – difficulty with precise hand and finger movement, such as in writing, sewing, or fastening buttons
  • Poverty of movement – lack of natural, subtle movements like the decreased arm swing during walking
  • Akathisia – restless movement, which may appear as being jumpy or fidgety
  • Difficulty swallowing – challenges swallowing can also cause drooling or excess saliva
  • Micrographia – the shrinking in handwriting that is exacerbated as the condition progresses
  • Cramping – muscles may stay in a contracted position and cause pain
  • Sexual dysfunction – decreased sex drive, inability to orgasm, erectile dysfunction in men, decreased lubrication in women, or pain with intercourse in women2-4

Non-motor symptoms

Symptoms that are caused by PD that are not related to movement are collectively called non-motor symptoms and may include:

  • Fatigue – excessive tiredness that isn’t relieved with sleep
  • Digestive issues – difficulty swallowing, nausea, bloating, and/or constipation
  • Sleep problems – including difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, vivid dreams, physically acting out dreams, and sleep apnea
  • Orthostatic hypotension – low blood pressure that occurs when rising to a standing position
  • Increased sweating
  • Increased drooling
  • Pain – which may accompany muscle rigidity
  • Hyposmia – reduced sense of smell
  • Mood changes – including depression and anxiety
  • Cognitive changes – including memory difficulties, slowed thinking, confusion, impaired visual-spatial skills (such as getting lost in familiar locations), and dementia
  • Psychotic symptoms – including hallucinations, paranoia, and agitation3

Treatment for symptoms

There are a variety of treatments that can help manage the motor symptoms of PD; however, there are no known treatments that can stop or slow the disease progression, and there is no cure. Treatments can relieve the symptoms and improve the quality of life for people living with PD. Treatment options include medications, surgical treatments, and complementary and alternative therapies.3

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Written by: Emily Downward | Last reviewed: March 2017